After all that hard work polishing your CV and perfecting your cover letter, you’ve finally landed a job interview in Germany. Congratulations! The company is definitely interested. Now you need to put in the necessary work so you can shine on the day.
Interviews are intimidating enough in your own country, but when you’re abroad, facing unfamiliar customs, and perhaps even having to interview in a language that’s not your mother tongue, they can be really nerve-wracking. This guide walks you through the basics of job interviews in Germany, with some tips on how you should prepare, along with some examples of typical German interview questions, and advice on how to answer them.
Job interviews in Germany
The good news is, there’s lots you can do in advance of an interview to help you feel confident on the day. While interviews do vary depending on the position and industry, your profile, and the interviewer’s judgement, they generally follow a fairly standard pattern that can give you a good idea of what to expect and how to prepare.
Like other aspects of applying for a job in Germany, interviews in the federal republic tend to be rather formal affairs - although start-ups and other international companies might prove to be the exception to this rule. You and your interviewer will normally address each other using the formal “Sie” - unless your interviewer suggests otherwise, you shouldn’t use the informal “du”.
You should arrive punctually (around 10 minutes before the scheduled start time) and dress in smart business attire. It’s also a good idea to bring a copy of your CV and other relevant documents. You’ll probably be greeted with a firm handshake. Note also that it’s important in Germany to maintain plenty of eye contact, to show respect.
Travelling to interview
In Germany, companies typically pay for the costs of attending a job interview. This includes transportation. If you are currently living abroad, you can check whether your costs will also be covered, but the company may prefer to interview you via phone or video call. Non-EU citizens may also need a visa to enter the country for an interview.
Although most interviews in Germany are usually held at the office with one, two or more stakeholders, some companies do use assessment centres, particularly for higher-ranking positions. This kind of selection process involves the applicant carrying out certain tasks together with other applicants.
How to prepare for a job interview
As well as brushing up on what you wrote in your application, it’s a good idea to do some background research before your interview, on your interviewers, the company, and the industry (if you haven’t already done so). You can also reread the job description to remind yourself of what specific skills the employer is looking for.
You should go through some standard interview questions to prepare. You don’t need to memorise your answers, but taking time to consider how you’ll respond will help you to feel confident during the interview.
If German isn’t your native language, it’s also a good idea to brush up on some useful words and phrases (some German language schools even offer crash courses on preparing for job interviews). It’s not unheard of for the interviewer to break into German even for jobs advertised in English.
German interview questions & Answers
The questions that are likely to arise at a job interview in Germany can be broadly split into four categories. Below we look at some of the most common questions and offer some tips on what you should say in your answer.
Job interview questions: About you
It should go without saying, but be prepared to answer some questions about yourself.
Tell me about yourself? Stellen Sie sich kurz vor?
Likely to be one of the first questions you’re asked, this is your classic “elevator pitch” introduction. You can add some personal information about your interests and experiences, but the focus should be mainly on what makes you an ideal candidate for the job. It’s also important to keep it brief, no more than two to three minutes.
What have been your greatest achievements to date? Was sind Ihre größten Erfolge?
This is your chance to show off a little (but don’t overdo it - Germans in particular are not fond of showboating). Focus on career highs that are relatively recent and relevant to the position. Illustrate their impact on the company.
What are your strengths? Was sind Ihre Stärken?
This very common question is designed to determine how well qualified you are for the position. You should therefore focus on attributes that qualify you for the job at hand. Make sure you back up your answers with examples - for instance, rather than just saying you work well under pressure, tell a story, preferably drawing on your professional experience, that demonstrates this.
What are your weaknesses? Was sind Ihre Schwächen?
You can also expect to be asked about your weaknesses. The best way to tackle this question is to try to put a positive spin on things. For instance, you could share an example of a weakness you’ve recognised and taken steps to correct - thereby improving your skills as an employee.
Where do you see yourself in five years? Wo sehen Sie sich in fünf Jahren?
The interviewer wants to get an idea of your career trajectory and ambitions - are you the kind of candidate that’s going to stick around or will you move on as soon as you find a better opportunity? Cover both your short- and long-term goals and explain how this job and this company fits into your plan.
German job interview questions: About the job and your experience
You should also prepare for some questions about your work experience and your current role.
Why do you want this job? Warum bewerben Sie sich für diesen Job?
The interviewer wants to know how much you really want the job, and what makes you suited for the role. Explain, specifically, what makes you a good fit for the position, and what you would focus on if you were hired. You should also talk about the aspects of the company and the role which appeal to you.
Why are you the best person for the job? Warum sind Sie der beste Kandidat?
What makes you stand out from the other candidates? Be prepared to justify this. Your response should be a confident and concise sales pitch that explains what you have to offer. Check the qualifications and requirements listed in the job description, and work out a response that aligns with what the company is looking for.
How do you handle stress? Können Sie mit Stress umgehen?
The interviewer wants to know how you deal with difficult situations at work. Do you thrive under pressure? What’s your response when things go wrong? Answer with an example of how you have successfully managed a stressful situation in a previous role. Avoid claiming that you never experience stress.
What are your salary expectations? Welches Gehalt stellen Sie sich vor?
Questions about money are always tricky to answer. Do some research before the interview so that you’re able to present a salary range that’s fair, based on your job title, employer, experience, skills and location. Salaries in Germany, for instance, vary significantly between federal states and professions.
German interview questions: About the company
Most interviewers will also want to know that you are genuinely interested in the opportunity and are passionate about working for the company, so expect some questions along the following lines:
What do you know about the company? Was wissen Sie über unser Unternehmen?
Here’s your chance to demonstrate your work ethic by showing you’ve done your homework. Don’t bore them with details they already know (“The company was founded in 1995”), but instead prepare some key talking points, for instance major company milestones or impending launches. Conclude by outlining how the company’s brand or mission aligns with your own personal or career goals.
Why are you applying at this company specifically? Warum bewerben Sie sich genau bei uns?
This is nearly the same question as above, just dressed up in different clothes. Again, the interviewer wants to know that you are genuinely enthusiastic. What is it that appeals to you? The company’s culture, further training opportunities, products or services? In your answer, be specific, showing that you have done your research, but choose a topic that genuinely enthuses you and allows your personality to shine through.
Interview questions: About your previous job
The interviewer will also want to get some information about your current or previous role.
Why do you want to leave your current role? Warum wollen Sie Ihren bisherigen Job aufgeben?
You’ll need to prepare an answer to this question that’s honest about your current working situation, but keeps things positive. Even if you’re leaving your current job under difficult circumstances, this isn’t the best time to share lots of information. Say that you want to make a change in your career and explain how this job fits into that plan.
What will you miss most about your present job? Was werden Sie an Ihrem jetzigen Job am meisten vermissen?
Don’t overdo it, since you’re looking to leave, but emphasise aspects of your current role that you most enjoy. In the course of your answer, turn it towards the new potential employer, picking out an aspect of the new role or company that you will also enjoy.
What questions should you ask at a German job interview?
At some point, usually towards the end of the interview, you can expect your potential employer to allow you to ask some questions. They might say, “Haben Sie Fragen für uns?”
This is another opportunity to show your interest in the company and the role, and to resolve any unanswered queries, so it’s a good idea to have a selection of questions prepared in advance. You could touch on details of your potential employment contract and working hours, but avoid asking too many questions about holiday leave and remuneration. You could ask:
- Is this a new job or did it already exist? Wird die Stelle neu geschaffen oder gab es sie schon vorher?
- What would be my primary responsibilities? An welchen Aufgaben würde ich hauptsächlich arbeiten?
- How could the position develop? Wie könnte sich die Stelle entwickeln?
- How would you describe the company culture? Wie würden Sie Ihrer Unternehmenskultur beschreiben?
- How does your company invest in the development of its employees? Wie werden Talente und Stärken bei Ihnen gefördert?
- When can I expect a decision? Wann kann ich mit Ihrer Entscheidung rechnen?
More interview questions in Germany
Apart from the questions covered in detail above, these other job interview questions are likely to come up:
- How would you describe yourself? Wie würden Sie sich beschreiben?
- Which person has shaped you especially? How? Wer hat Sie in Ihrem Leben entscheidend geprägt? Wie?
- How do you manage your work / life balance? Wie managen Sie Ihre Work / Life Balance?
- What is the biggest mistake you’ve made? Was war Ihr größter Misserfolg?
- How do you handle failure? Wie gehen Sie mit Niederlagen um?
- What motivates you? Was motiviert Sie?
- What are your career goals? Was sind Ihren Karriere Zielen?
- Which style of leadership do you prefer? Welchen Führungsstil bevorzugen Sie?
- How do you handle conflict? Wie gehen Sie mit Konflikten um?
- How do you prioritise? Wie setzen Sie Prioritäten?
- How do you plan a project? Wie planen Sie einen Projekt?
About your work experience
- What were your responsibilities in your previous job? Für was waren Sie in Ihrem alten Job verantwortlich?
- How do you deal with difficult colleagues? Wie gehen Sie mit schwierigen Kollegen um?
- What do you expect from your colleagues / line managers? Was erwarten Sie von Ihren Kollegen und von Ihrem Chef?
- What will you bring to the role, that others will not? Was können Sie für uns tun, was andere nicht können?
- How would you describe your working style? Wie würden Sie Ihren Arbeitsstil beschreiben?
- How do you want to progress in your career? Wohin möchten Sie sich in Ihrer Karriere entwickeln?
- How would you describe your communication style? Wie würden Sie Ihren persönlichen Kommunikationsstil beschreiben?
About the company / previous company
- What do you like about the company? Was gefällt dir an dem Unternehmen?
- What do you think of your previous boss? Was denken Sie über Ihren letzten Chef?